Living easy, living free
Season ticket on a one-way ride
Asking nothing, leave me be
Taking everything in my stride
No stop signs, speed limit
Nobody’s gonna slow me down
Like a wheel, gonna spin it
Nobody’s gonna mess me ’round
According to Pratt, the best way to protect people from mass shootings is to make sure more guns are allowed in more places. “Gun-free zones are like magnets for the monsters in our society,” [said] Pratt.
Note the moronic (are you a selective moron?) emphasis on “gun crime” and not, “all cause mortality,” i.e. all homicide. Get it?
Now, let’s segue to another potentially dangerous weapon that millions of people are left to get by with on their own on a daily basis: the automobile. We as a society permit this sort of dangerous and risky behavior, one that kills far more people than the anthropomorphic gun does in its wildest dreams.
So what if I proposed that to make traffic safer in the general, we eliminate virtually all traffic signs, directions, rules, stop signs, stop lights? In comments on a post today, a commenter actually jokingly attributed my more guns in more places position exactly to that.
Well, guess what? It’s been done. Not only has it been done, but it’s been a marvelous success in reducing and even sometimes eliminating fatalities, injuries and property damage on previously notorious intersections (Google it).
Enter Hans Monderman.
Hans Monderman (19 November 1945 – 7 January 2008) was a Dutch road traffic engineer and innovator. He was recognized for radically challenging criteria used to evaluate engineering solutions for street design. His work compelled transportation planners and highway engineers to look afresh at the way people and technology relate to each other.
His most famous design approach is Shared Space, also known as designing for negotiation or Shared Streets. Monderman found that the traffic efficiency and safety of urban streets improved when the street and surrounding public space was redesigned to encourage each person to negotiate their movement directly with others. Shared Space designs typically call for removing regulatory traffic control features (such as kerbs, lane markings, signs and lights) and replacing intersections with roundabouts.
In the last few years, however, one traffic engineer did achieve a measure of global celebrity, known, if not exactly by name, then by his ideas. His name was Hans Monderman. The idea that made Monderman, who died of cancer in January at the age of 62, most famous is that traditional traffic safety infrastructure—warning signs, traffic lights, metal railings, curbs, painted lines, speed bumps, and so on—is not only often unnecessary, but can endanger those it is meant to protect.
As I drove with Monderman through the northern Dutch province of Friesland several years ago, he repeatedly pointed out offending traffic signs. “Do you really think that no one would perceive there is a bridge over there?” he might ask, about a sign warning that a bridge was ahead. “Why explain it?” He would follow with a characteristic maxim: “When you treat people like idiots, they’ll behave like idiots.” Eventually he drove me to Makkinga, a small village at whose entrance stood a single sign. It welcomed visitors, noted a 30 kilometer-per-hour speed limit, then added: “Free of Traffic Signs.” This was Monderman humor at its finest: a traffic sign announcing the absence of traffic signs.
Monderman wasn’t an obvious candidate to become a traffic revolutionary. Born in the small Friesland village of Leeuwarden, son of a headmaster, he worked as a civil engineer, building roads, then as an accident investigator, examining how crashes happen. But he was an unusually fluid thinker. Over lunch during my visit, he excitedly told me that he had been reading about the theory that delta societies tend to foster innovation because of their necessary flexibility in dealing with potentially changing landscapes. He saw a parallel with the low-lying Netherlands. “I think the Dutch are selected for that quality—looking for changes—by the landscape.”
And Monderman certainly changed the landscape in the provincial city of Drachten, with the project that, in 2001, made his name. At the town center, in a crowded four-way intersection called the Laweiplein, Monderman removed not only the traffic lights but virtually every other traffic control. Instead of a space cluttered with poles, lights, “traffic islands,” and restrictive arrows, Monderman installed a radical kind of roundabout (a “squareabout,” in his words, because it really seemed more a town square than a traditional roundabout), marked only by a raised circle of grass in the middle, several fountains, and some very discreet indicators of the direction of traffic, which were required by law.
As I watched the intricate social ballet that occurred as cars and bikes slowed to enter the circle (pedestrians were meant to cross at crosswalks placed a bit before the intersection), Monderman performed a favorite trick. He walked, backward and with eyes closed, into the Laweiplein. The traffic made its way around him. No one honked, he wasn’t struck. Instead of a binary, mechanistic process—stop, go—the movement of traffic and pedestrians in the circle felt human and organic.
A year after the change, the results of this “extreme makeover” were striking: Not only had congestion decreased in the intersection—buses spent less time waiting to get through, for example—but there were half as many accidents, even though total car traffic was up by a third. Students from a local engineering college who studied the intersection reported that both drivers and, unusually, cyclists were using signals—of the electronic or hand variety—more often. They also found, in surveys, that residents, despite the measurable increase in safety, perceived the place to be more dangerous. This was music to Monderman’s ears. If they had not felt less secure, he said, he “would have changed it immediately.”
Ah, music to my ears: “If they had not felt less secure…” Remind you of anything, like: The Evolutionary Deterrence of the Unknown? …And so we come full traffic circle.
I could approach this from a number of angles. One such angle, however, has already been in motion for the 8 Parts & counting of my Anarchy Begins at Home Series. That is, just because you feel safe & secure by having a host of officials making your decisions for you, creating layers of rules & regulations on rules & regulations, doesn’t mean you are; and the unintended consequences are always going to be greater. Always.
The other tack is that you only feel safe and secure because you’re a lazy-ass animal and someone’s doing your work for you. You have stop signs, stop lights, a plethora of signs and road rules, so you can drive blissfully, feeling safe, but provably less safe. Or, you have gun control and a system of professional protectors that almost always get there in minutes to do your lazy-ass job for you—but too often, when seconds count.
You’re welcome to argue that both traffic regulations and delegation of all forceful defense is “safe enough.” But that is your personal decision to make. Don’t argue that it’s actually the safest, because it’s not, and don’t argue that I and others must go along with it because it’s good enough for you. It’s not good enough for me, and many others.
I’m on the highway to hell
Nobody gets out alive. Just make sure that you get to go to hell in your own go-cart!